A Year And A Half Of Modular Synthesizer


Over the past year and a half I have been building a modular synthesizer that it took me about seven years to get around to get started on. I debated formats for almost five years, it was between DotComand and Eurorack. Being Moog user the desire to keep to the same format was strong for a very long time, but the most interesting developments seemed to be coming from the Eurorack world. The final decision was made strangely, when the TV station I work for replaced their aging studio intercom system, they were throwing out all of the old equipment which was housed in the same rack 3U format as Eurorack. I managed to acquire four racks as well as three more sets of rails, which set me up to have room for expansion for quite a while (although I am ready to start populating my last rack unit as I type this, a mere year and a half after I began)

I was sold on Make Noise after reading about the Maths, DPO, and Pressure Points in Sound On Sound, and began building my system. My first module was aTipTop Audio uZeus power supply, but my first “synthesizer” module was the Pressure Points (I decided early on that I wanted to focus on more of a non keyboard modular, and the Pressure Points sounded like a fun and versatile interface), followed by the Maths (which seems to be ubiquitous in euro rack modulars).

I purchased some “bread and butter” modules from Pittsburgh Modular, an Outs, a Mixer, and an Oscillator so I could actually make some noise (though you can generate sound from the Maths).

My first filter was a WMD Micro Hadron Collider which I never really connected with. I purchased a Pittsburgh Dual VCA followed by a TipTop Z4000 envelope generator. I liked the Z4000 because of the CV control of it’s ADSR parameters.

Finally with Xmas money I was able procure the coveted DPO oscillator from Make Noise. It is a very deep featured oscillator and is almost a complete synthesizer unto itself. It met all of my expectations.

I had my father, who is handy with saws and wood, build a skiff which I powered with a Make Noise din power module. I populated it with second Pressure Points and Brains which gave me sequencing capability.

There was still the issue of filtering. I had never been able able to get a sound I liked out of it, so I sold it on eBay. I replaced it with yet another Make Noise module, the MMG low pass gate, from the day it arrived I connected with it right away. It really was a game changer for me with the modular, the patches I was making finally had character (from my perspective).

I love wavetable synthesis, it’s probably my favorite voice architecture, I have a Waldorf Microwave XTk, which I simply adore. So I got one of the first Intellijel Shapeshifter dual wavetable oscillator, which I recommend strongly.

I added a second simple ADSR envelope generator and second mixer from Pittsburgh Modular as well as the MIDI 2 for syncing to my DSI Tempest and my DAW for recording.

At this point I purchased a second uZeus for more power, which I would put to good use powering yet another oscillator, the Make Noise STO, and a second filter, the Dave Smith Instruments DSM01 Curtis Filter. The DSI filter has a distinct, classic flavor, and options are what modular synthesis is about.

I grabbed a used Make Noise ModDemix ring modulator and Hexinverter Orbitals sequencer in the fall. I’d been wanting a sixteen step sequencer and I liked the classic functionality. In the future I plan to add a more modern sequencer as well.

Xmas 2014 brought yet another Make Noise oscillator, the Mysteron. I’d say this is my last oscillator for a while but I have my eye on a couple of things…

As of January 5th 2015, the most recent addition is the Pittsburgh Modular Analog Replicator, a fantastic bucket brigade delay module.

What does the future hold for my modular synth? I don’t know, but I do know I need more modulation sources, and I’m feeling like another VCA and Out are in the near future. Most of all it’s time to integrate it as an instrument into my compositions, at this point I mostly use it to make esoteric “modular synth music”, I feel it’s time for it to become more of a tool and less of a novelty in my studio.

To get a closer look and read more on my modular synth odyssey, check out my blog at: https://www.tumblr.com/blog/nonspecificcorporation